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United beaten by late Marinos winner

Manchester United fell to their second defeat of their pre-season tour when a late winner from Yokohama F Marinos striker Yoshihito Fujita completed the turn-around for the home side to earn them a 3-2 win, having come back from 2-1 down. United had earlier fought back themselves from a goal down to lead 2-1, but were unable to hold on to their advantage in David Moyes’ third game in charge.

Moyes put out a team with a mixture of youth and experience including young prospects Jesse Lingard, Adnan Januzaj and Wilfred Zaha as well as regular first teamers like Van Persie, Evra and De Gea. There was a large crowd at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama and they were treated to an entertaining five goal thriller with action right from the off as veteran Brazilian striker Marcos Gomes De Araujo, known as Marquinhos, gave the home side the lead after only a minute.

Youngster Jesse Lingard continued his fine run of form in front of goal on the tour with an equaliser in the nineteenth minute following good work by Zaha and United took the lead on the half hour mark courtesy of an own goal by Masakazu Tashiro when the ball deflected off him following a free kick into the box. However, the lead only lasted until the opening stages of the second period when another of Ypkohama F Marinos’ Brazilians, defender Fabio Aguiar da Silva, headed in from a corner that De Gea failed to gather. There were more chances for both sides but it was Fujita who eventually won it for the Japanese.

Home favourite Shinji Kagawa came on for Januzaj mid way through the second half for his first United appearance of the tour following his extended holiday after Japan’s Confederations Cup campaign and he certainly got a good reception from the crowd, but was unable to have much impact on the game. Moyes won’t be unduly concerned with his team’s form at this early stage with plenty of players still to integrate the squad, but he will be hopeful of an improvement when they next take to the field against Cerezo Osaka on Friday. The united team in full was as follows:

David De Gea, Fabio, Phil Jones, Johnny Evans (Chris Smalling), Patrice Evra, Anderson, Tom Cleverley, Jesse Lingard (Ashley Young), Wilfred Zaha (Ryan Giggs), Adnan Januzaj (Shinji Kagawa), Robin Van Persie (Danny Welbeck).

Monaco target Nani as next big money signing

Newly promoted French Ligue 1 club AS Monaco have targeted Manchester United’s Portuguese winger Nani as the next item on their multi million Euro summer shopping list. The club from the principality tax haven near France’s border with Italy have been spending Russian billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev’s money like it’s going out of fashion as they attempt to compete with fellow money-bags PSG for the French title in their first season back in the top flight.

Nani was restricted to only eleven league appearances at the Old Trafford club last season, partly through injury and partly through the choice of former manager Sir Alex Ferguson, and he only managed one Premier League goal, plus another couple of goals in his ten cup appearances. He was selected for the first team for the crucial Champions League second leg clash against Real Madrid where he received a harsh red card that turned the tie on its head early in the second half. With a World Cup coming up at the end of this season, he will be hoping for a more regular place in a team to play himself into form and into the Portuguese team.

Nani, who was born in Cape Verde, has sixty six caps for Portugal and would be part of a growing Portuguese camp in Monaco as the club have already recruited his international team mates Ricardo Carvalho and Joao Moutinho this summer. They were in addition to the signings of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Anthony Martial, taking their summer spending so far to in excess of €139 million, not to mention the capture of big names such as Eric Abidal and Jeremy Toulalan on free transfers.

Nani, 26, who has also been linked with Inter Milan in Italy as well as Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia, where his former assistant manager at Manchester United, Rene Meulensteen, has just taken charge, is reportedly discussing terms with the directors of Monaco and it’s thought that United would be willing to release him in exchange for an offer of €10 million or upwards although his wage demands might be a potential stumbling block. Nani was missing from United’s summer tour party to Asia due to a broken nose and may find himself down the pecking order for the start of the season if he stays at United as the signing of Wilfred Zaha means they now have an abundance of wide attacking options also including Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and the evergreen Ryan Giggs.

United increase offer for Fabregas

Manchester United manager David Moyes has confirmed that the club has made a renewed offer for Barcelona’s former Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas. United had an offer of around £25 million rejected by the Spanish champions last week, but they have decided to continue with their interest in the player and return with an improved bid, thought to be worth around £30 million.

The situation at the Catalan club has been evolving in the mean time, with manager Tito Vilanova stepping down from his post at the end of last week. Vilanova, 44, has been battling throat cancer since 2011 and was sidelined for much of last season as he underwent treatment in New York and has now taken the decision to leave the club and focus on his fight against the disease. Barcelona have yet to appoint a permanent replacement but they hope to do so in the near future, with Celta Vigo manager Luis Enrique amongst the favourites.

It remains to be seen whether Barcelona will issue an immediate response to this latest offer, or will wait until a new manager is in place to decide whether or not he wants to keep Fabregas. The player himself was reported as saying that he’s happy at Barcelona and isn’t keen on an imminent move back to England and Barcelona’s midfield would start to look a little light on numbers if they were to sell Fabregas, having only recently let Thiago Alcantara move to Bayern Munich. Fabregas was seen as a long-term replacement for Xavi who, at 33, is going to need resting more and more regularly, so Fabregas is likely to get increasing amounts of first team action if he stays at the Nou Camp. However, it’s a World Cup season and he may feel that the offer of a near guaranteed first team spot at United would be good for his chances on nailing down a spot in Spain’s staring eleven for Brazil.

Moyes gets down to work

New Manchester United manager David Moyes has arrived at the club’s training ground for his first official day at work in his new job. He is now getting down to the business of finalising his backroom team, addressing player retention and recruitment issues and planning his training program ahead of the the new season, which begins with a tour of the far east.

Moyes has three full days to devote to administrative issues before they playing staff return for pre-season training on Thursday the 4th of July and just six days of working with his new players before they depart for their pre-season tour on the 10th. The tour will take in Thailand, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong before they return to Europe at the end of the month to complete their preparations with further friendly matches in Sweden and at Old Trafford for Rio Ferdinand’s testimonial.

This is his official first day at the office, but the new United boss has already been working behind the scenes to bring his own support team to Old Trafford and has replaced Alex Ferguson’s assistant, first team coach and goalkeeping coach with his own team from Everton, Steve Round, Jimmy Lumsden and Chris Woods. Round had a short playing career with Derby County but made his name as a coach when working with England manager Steve McClaren. He has been working with David Moyes since 2008.

Jimmy Lumsden had a nomadic playing career as a midfielder with a variety of English, Scottish and Irish clubs before working as a coach and managing Bristol City for a couple of years. He has been working with David Moyes since 1998. Goalkeeper Chris Woods had by far the highest profile playing career of Moyes’ three new assistants, having played at the top level for over twenty years and winning 43 caps for England. He was a coach at Everton from 1998 onwards and has worked with Moyes since the Scot arrived at Goodison Park in 2002.

High on the agenda for the next few days will be the possible recruitment of another member of his backroom team, with the recently retired Phil Neville rumored to be his preferred choice. Neville worked with Moyes for many years as his captain at Everton, having previously played at Manchester United and would bring first hand knowledge of the Old Trafford club. Moyes will also be keen to talk to striker Wayne Rooney as there have been conflicting stories in the press regarding his desire to stay at the club or seek a transfer.

Then there is the issue of the rejected bid for Everton left-back Leighton Baines. Baines, at 28, might see this as his last chance for a big money move to a Champions League contender and would probably be tempted to continue his relationship with his former manager and receive a pay rise to boot. However, a first bid of around £12 million was rejected and United must now decide how much to raise their offer. It is likely that Moyes will push hard to secure the services of Baines as that first bid will have alerted current left-back Patrice Evra that his new manager is looking at potential replacements and could have unsettled the French international, who has regularly worn the captain’s armband at Old Trafford in recent seasons.

Rooney linked with PSG

England striker Wayne Rooney has been linked with a move to newly crowned French champions Paris Saint-Germain after they reportedly offered to match his current wages with Manchester United. The twenty-seven year old, who has just become a father for the second time, is looking at his options and was rumoured to have asked to leave the Manchester club last week.

Rooney was regularly substituted during the course of the season and was left on the bench for the crucial second leg of their Champions League tie against Real Madrid fueling speculation that he was dissatisfied with his situation at the club. His form never reached the heights of the previous campaign and he was overshadowed by new signing Robin Van Persie on the goalscoring front, but it would be unfair to say that he had a poor season as he was one of only four players in the Premier League to reach double figures in both goals and assists (the others being Mata, Walcott and Cazorla). He simply didn’t quite live up to his usual exceptionally high standards.

The surprise change of manager at United will have given Rooney more food for thought as he no longer has to worry about being out of favour with Sir Alex Ferguson and has previously worked well with new boss David Moyes at Everton. The two did fall out following Rooney’s transfer from the toffees to United but it’s believed that they have since patched up their differences. The managerial situation at Paris Saint-Germain would also be a factor in his decision as Carlos Ancelotti is openly touting himself for the Real Madrid job so Rooney would be likely to wait and see who is in charge there next season before making any decision about a possible move to the French capital.

Some Manchester United supporters might be happy to see the club take a large sum of money in exchange for a player who appears to be less and less influential in their performances on the pitch, has asked to leave twice, and whose lifestyle often seems to leave him below peak fitness. His huge transfer fee could be useful for strengthening the central midfield, which is seen as a weak area at Old Trafford, but there are few clubs that could afford to sign him and take on his wages, which are around £300,000 per week.  Aside from PSG, it might only be Chelsea and Manchester City who have that sort of money at their disposal but neither club has yet to show and interest in Rooney.

Moyes to take over at Manchester United

Manchester United have announced that David Moyes will be their new manager, taking over from Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of this season. Sir Alex Ferguson announced his shock retirement yesterday morning and United were quick to confirm that the Everton manager will be his replacement. It is believed that Ferguson strongly endorsed the candidature of his fellow Scot for the post.

Moyes has been in charge at Everton since 2002 having previously managed at Preston North End. He has never won a top level club trophy as a manager and has no experience in the Champions League but was highly respected for his long term consistency and over-achievement on a tight budget at Everton. He did win a third tier league title with Preston and took Everton into the UEFA Cup/Europa League on three occasions. His highest league finish was fourth in the 2004-05 season, which qualified Everton for the Champions League preliminary stages but they lost to eventual semi finalists Villareal 4-2 on aggregate.

Moyes, who has won the LMA Manager of the Year award three times, has signed a six year contract with Manchester United and will hope to build the sort of dynasty associated with his predecessor. His first task at Old Trafford will be to resolve the future of England international Wayne Rooney who has reportedly handed in another transfer request. Before then he has two final matches to oversee as Everton manager starting with his swansong at Goodison Park against West Ham on Sunday followed by a trip to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea seven days later.

United hit top spot

Manchester United overhauled their cross-town rivals Manchester City to take top place in the Premier League table with ten games remaining in the 2011-12 season. United eased to victory against West Bromwich Albion with a goal in each half from the on-form Wayne Rooney. The first was diverted in after good work from Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez in the 35th minute and the second was from the penalty spot in the 71st minute. West Brom’s Jonas Olsson was dismissed in the 66th minute for a second bookable offence.

Meanwhile, Manchester City were going down 1-0 against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium. City domainated possession for long periods but were unable to find the net and succombed to an 83rd minute strike from substitute Luke Moore, only four minutes after he had come off the bench to replace Danny Graham. The Swans could have taken an early lead when they won a penalty in the 7th minute, only for Scott Sinclair’s effort to be well saved by City ‘keeper Joe Hart. It was mainly one-way traffic after that but, for once, City couldn’t find their cutting edge.

In the other game of the day, bottom of the table Wigan Athletic rescued a point from their trip to Carrow Road, having been 1-0 down against Norwich City. Wes Hoolahan gave the Canaries an early lead but the Latics came back strongly after the interval and replied through Victor Moses in the 68th minute. However, time ran out before Wigan could find a winner. The point leaves Wigan at the foot of the table but keeps them in touch with the rest of the teams struggling against relegation.

Manchester United’s win moves them on to 68 points at the top, one clear of Manchester City on 67, although City’s goal difference is still eight better than United’s. There is now a 13 point gap back from City to Spurs in third place.

League Cup: Manchester United 3-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers

Manchester United beat Wolves 3-2 at Old Trafford in the fourth round of the League Cup to secure a place in the quarter finals and move a step closer to defending the trophy they have won for the past two seasons.

The game came alive in the second forty five minutes, following a goalless and uneventful first half. Portuguese striker Bebe opened the scoring in the 56th minute, grabbing his first senior goal for the club somewhat fortuitously as his close range effort was deflected just over the line before Foley belatedly headed clear. However, Wolves were soon back on level terms as left-back George Elokobi crashed a powerful header into the net from a corner four minutes later.

Macheda and Park both missed good opportunities to restore the lead before the South Korean started and finished the move that made it 2-1 to United, shooting past Hennessey following a one-two with the Italian. Wolves again fought back strongly and dominated the next few minutes with another deserved equaliser coming from right-back Kevin Foley, who was neatly set up by Fletcher inside the United box.

Man of the moment Javier Hernandez was introduced to the United attack with ten minutes left on the clock. Sir Alex Ferguson obviously felt that the Mexican sensation could get the goal to win the game within normal time and he did just that, sprinting from the half way line to finish off an incisive move with some neat footwork in the box and a sharp finish leaving both Berra and Hennessey helpless on the ground.

Sir Alex had said that tonight’s team would offer a glimpse into the future of United, with a youthful line-up of reserve and fringe players taking the field. Here’s a quick summary of how they got on:

In goal, 20 year old Ben Amos made only his second appearance and didn’t have much to do in the first half but was kept busy after the interval. Allowed himself to be blocked on his goal-line by Ebanks-Blake as Elokobi headed in Wolves’ first goal, so he’ll need to learn how to command his box a bit better in the future. Probably couldn’t do a lot about the second goal.

In defence, Wes Brown and Johnny Evans are no strangers to the first team but Chris Smalling and Fabio are still finding their way at the club and all four will have benefitted from the opportunity of a run out given their recent paucity of first team football. Fabio managed to avoid making any of the rash challenges that have got him into trouble in the past and generally played well although he was replaced by Gary Neville when Matt Jarvis started to get the better of him in the second half. Neville himself was beaten by Jarvis soon after coming on and still looked short of match fitness. Brown, Evans and Smalling played OK without being exceptional.

In midfield, Carrick and Gibson were fairly anonymous. Each had a couple of long-range efforts that were either off target or never really troubled Hennessey. Both showed occasional glimpses of their passing ability but didn’t really stamp their authority on the centre of the park and Gibson was guilty of giving the ball away cheaply in the lead up to Wolves’ second equaliser. Park, as usual, worked extremely hard and deserved his goal. His experience was crucial in holding the unfamiliar team together and he earned the man of the match award from the broadcasters.

Macheda toiled away up front but didn’t combine particularly well with his fellow forwards and fluffed a few good chances. On his day he can be a useful first team striker, but today most definitely wasn’t his day. Gabriel Obertan again looked fast and skillful in possession but repeatedly chose the wrong option,, shooting or dribbling when he should have passed, or choosing the wrong pass. Defenders can’t cope with his close control and sudden change of direction but he’ll need more of an end product to make it at United. Fortunately for him, that is the sort of thing that Ferguson specialises in coaching. Bebe was impressive on the right side of attack and frequently beat his man to put in some decent crosses. He looked comfortable in possession and the goal will be good for his confidence. It remains to be seen if he will justify his price tag but it’s early days and there is promise.

Hernandez looked a class apart when he came on and there’s little doubt that he’ll be a mainstay of the first team in years to come, if he isn’t already. He has a knack of poaching goals not seen at United since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s retirement and has already notched up six goals for the club, having scored in four different competitions. A final mention goes to 17 year old midfielder Ravel Morrison, who came on in the last minute of injury time. One to watch out for in the future but he didn’t touch the ball tonight.

The New Wembley – Club Football Facts and Figures

The new English domestic season kicked off this weekend, with the return of football league action plus the traditional Wembley curtain raiser – the FA Community Shield. This heralded the start of the fifth season of action at the new national stadium since its completion in time for the end-of-season finals in 2006-07, and this will be its busiest season yet, culminating with the UEFA Champions League final in May 2011.

This year’s Community Shield was the 44th competitive club match since the re-opening* and fittingly it featured the two clubs that have made the new stadium their second home: Chelsea (with a record 9 appearances) and Manchester United (with 8 appearances). In fact, Manchester United have played in all four of the Community Shield matches since the event moved to the new Wembley, winning three and losing one of them. In that period, the team that has won the Shield has always gone on to win the league, so Alex Ferguson will take great heart from his side’s 3-1 victory yesterday.

A grand total of 51 club teams have earned the honour of running out onto the new Wembley turf (which finally seems to be a decent playing surface) in the four and a bit years since the stadium opened. The most notable absentees from that list are Liverpool and Manchester City, who will both be hoping they can put that record right sooner rather than later. 18 teams have now played at the stadium on more than one occasion, with debt stricken Portsmouth the third most frequent visitors (5 times) followed by Stevenage, Cardiff and Tottenham (3 times each).

Of the 18 teams who have visited more than once, only two have managed to keep a 100% winning record at English football’s biggest venue and it seems it’s good news if you’re a northern seaside resort – Blackpool and Whitley Bay are the undefeated pair. It’s not such good news for Aston Villa, York, Shrewsbury, Cambridge and West Brom – they are the five teams to have played at the new Wembley more than once and failed to win on either occasion, with Cambridge and West Brom failing to even find the net on any of their visits.**

Comfortably the biggest win at the new Wembley is Whitley Bay’s 6-1 trouncing of Wroxham in the 2009-10 FA Vase final. The next biggest margins of victory are Southampton’s 4-1 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy thrashing of Carlisle United and Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa, both also in the 2009-10 season. By far the most common scoreline (including after extra time) is 1-0, which has happened on 13 occasions (or 29.5% of the time), followed by 2-1 (on 7 occasions). In total, 113 goals have now been scored in competitive club football at the new Wembley at an average of 2.57 goals per game. Chelsea’s 14 is easily the biggest contribution from a single club.

There have only been five new-Wembley penalty shoot-outs to date and incredibly Manchester United have been involved in them all, winning three and losing two. United have also been a participant in all three 0-0 draws thus far at the new Wembley.

The full record for the teams who have made more than one appearance at the new Wembley Stadium is shown below:

TEAM P W L F A
Chelsea 9 6 3 14 10
Manchester United 8 5 3 8 6
Portsmouth 5 3 2 4 1
Stevenage 3 2 1 6 4
Cardiff 3 1 2 3 4
Spurs 3 1 2 2 3
Whitley Bay 2 2 0 8 1
Blackpool 2 2 0 5 2
Scunthorpe United 2 1 1 5 5
Millwall 2 1 1 3 3
Exeter City 2 1 1 2 2
Torquay United 2 1 1 2 1
Everton 2 1 1 1 2
Aston Villa 2 0 2 1 5
York 2 0 2 1 5
Shrewsbury 2 0 2 1 4
Cambridge United 2 0 2 0 3
West Brom 2 0 2 0 2

*The full list of competitive club matches played at the stadium is: FA Cup final and semi finals, League Cup Final, Community Shield, Championship, League One, League Two and Conference Play-Off Finals, FA Trophy Final, FA Vase Final and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final.

**In the event of a draw, we took into account the result after extra time and penalties – there are only winners and losers in club football at Wembley.

Manchester United Future Opponent Focus: AC Milan

United take on Italian giants AC Milan in the first leg of their Champions League tie this week.  www.aboutaball.co.uk runs the rule over one of Italy’s most evocative footballing names.

History

The 17-times Italian Champions are second only to Juventus in terms of outright wins in Serie A, along with cross-city rivals Inter Milan.  After being set up by English ex-pats at the end of the 18th century as a place they could play cricket and indulge in other sporting activities, AC Milan have really flourished in the football arena.  Of course it has not just been domestically they have flexed their muscle, but also on the continental stage with several great teams going down in history each ranking amongst the best of their generation. 

Arguably the greatest side ever assembled at AC Milan was under Arrigo Sacchi and then continued later by Fabio Capello at a time when English fans were given regular access to Italian football via Channel 4 at the beginning of the 1990’s.  Powered by the Dutch trio of Ruud Gulit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, AC Milan swept all before them both at home and abroad.

Recent seasons have brought less silverware as the club became embroiled in the embarrassing Calciopoli scandal that engulfed Italian football in the summer of 2006.  As a result Inter Milan have become the pre-eminent force in Serie A, and AC Milan have since been playing catch-up to their local rivals.

Season so Far

The 2009/10 season started under something of a cloud with the departure of their main player, Kaka to Real Madrid and long-serving manager Carlo Ancelotti to Chelsea.  Rookie manager Leonardo was handed the task of taking the fight to Inter Milan this season, which AC have done with varying degrees of success. 

Unsurprisingly with so many changes both on the field and in the backroom staff they started sluggishly.  However eight wins in nine Serie A matches in a run stretching between October and January suggested that they were back on course, but recent results have been less satisfactory including draws against bottom-half of the table pair Bologna and Livorno, and a morale sapping loss to Inter, which have cost AC Milan valuable ground in the chase for the title. 

A number of new signings brought into the club are yet to really gel, and there appears to be something of a division between the established team members such as Clarence Seedorf and Massimo Ambrosini and the more recent recruits, such as Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato.  Relatively inexperienced manager Leonardo hasn’t always got the balance right, but results have picked up as AC Milan have developed over the course of the season. 

Qualification for the knock-out stages of the Champions League pre-Christmas at a time when they were really struggling for form, was far from assured and combined a home defeat to Swiss outsiders FC Zurich with an impressive away win against Real Madrid. 

Manager

The cerebral Leonardo was handed the tough task of guiding AC Milan through a difficult patch in their history.  Given his status as a rookie, his appointment was a slight surprise.  After coming under pressure early on in the season as AC Milan slipped as low as 12th by match-day seven, he has shown that he is capable of moulding the team into something of a functioning unit.  Defeats against Inter Milan in both Milan derbies though indicate there is still much to be done if they are to make up the chasm that has developed between them and the top of the league. 

Players to Watch

The former World Player of the Year is back to his best after a spell in the doldrums

The genial Brazilian player-make Ronaldinho is arguably the player who above all makes the side tick.  The former Barcelona midfielder dropped off the radar after leaving Barcelona in the summer of 2008 and such was his struggle for form that he has even been benched.  Nevertheless in recent months he has returned to something approaching his best, with his range of tricks, flicks and attacking passing.

Dutchman Clarence Seedorf has moved into a less attacking role since Ronaldinho arrived at the club, but can still pose a threat from a slightly deeper area.  One of the most experienced operators around Europe the powers of the now 33-year-old may be on the wane, but he may have a pivotal role to play in what is likely to be the area of the pitch in which battle for supremacy will be decided. 

 

Strengths

- The return to form of Ronaldinho makes him a key-man to be stopped from right-full back area, a position that United have struggled to fill this season.

- Incredible experience throughout the team, and a will to win, especially in Europe, that is unsurpassed anywhere on the continent. 

- Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has struggled for goals since arriving from Real Madrid in the summer, but a brace in Friday night’s 3-2 win against Udinese, indicates he still knows the route to goal.

Weaknesses

- An ageing squad, especially through midfield, that may be susceptible to the pace and power that United possess in this area.

- Both right- and left full-back have been a problem area for AC Milan throughout the course of the season.  In the last match Daniele Bonera returning from long-term injury played on the right side and veteran Giuseppe Favalli occupied the left back area.  Both could be exposed by United over the course of the tie.

- Goalkeeper Dida is good for at least one blunder a match with crosses a particular source of worry to the error-prone custodian. 

Familiar faces

Of course, a look at AC Milan wouldn’t be complete without discussing David Beckham.  The Old Trafford legend is in his second spell at the San Siro on loan from his US club LA Galaxy.  It’s been six-and-a-half years since Beckham left English shores, and this will be his first chance to play against his former employers.  However, he has been far from first choice under Leonardo this season and the arrival of Mancini on loan has seen him demoted to the bench for the right-sided attacking role that he has fulfilled with some aplomb in his two-loan spells in Italy.  Only a man with a heart of stone would begrudge Beckham a chance to return to his old stamping ground, but it could well be that it will be more of a cameo role than one from the outset.

Former Arsenal player Mathieu Flamini looked set for an exit over the winter transfer window, but remains at the club for now.  The Frenchman is yet to fully establish himself in midfield playing nearly as often as sub as from the start.

Beckham isn’t the only player in the squad with US connections’ former Newcastle centre-back Oguchi Onyewu is an international for America despite never having played in the MLS.  The tall defender spent part of the 2006/07 season at St James’ Park, but failed to make a positive impact after committing several costly errors alongside the equally mistake strewn Titus Bramble. 

Have we met before?

AC Milan very much hold the upper-hand historically in matches against United with five wins in eight attempts, and progression to the next stage of the tournament each time they have met.

The last meeting dates back to the semi-final of the Champions League in 2007, in which the Italians triumphed 5-3 on aggregate.  An exciting first leg narrowly went United’s way thanks to goals from Rooney and Ronaldo, but a brace from Kaka kept Milan in the tie.  A heavy 3-0 defeat in the return leg after goals again from Kaka, as well as Seedorf and the now departed Gilardino, settled the tie AC Milan’s way and they went on to claim the victory against Liverpool in the final in Athens.

Two narrow 1-0 wins in the 2004/05 edition of the tournament at the second round stage, thanks to strikes from arch goal-poacher Hernan Crespo took Milan through some five years ago at United’s expense. 

Delving into less recent memory Milan also overcame United in the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1969 taking a 2-1 aggregate victory; after winning the first leg 2-0 in Italy, United could manage only a 1-0 win back in England.  The first ever meeting between the two teams dates back to the semi finals of the 1957-58 competition, as United battled back from the Munich air-disaster. The brave run was ended by AC Milan, who overturned a first leg 2-1 deficit, to run out comfortable 4-0 winners in the return leg and set up a final against the great Real Madrid team of the 1950’s, which they went on to lose 3-2.

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